Parking Lots and Personal Security – 15 Key Tips to Keep You Safe
A Normal Day Gone Bad and Never to Be Forgotten
The day was September 30, 1991 and I was working as an FBI Special Agent in Houston, Texas, when I heard the news through local law enforcement sources that an eyewitness reported a woman, returning to her parked car just outside a local mall, was forced into her van and abducted by two unidentified males. The abduction occurred sometime around 7:30pm that evening. The torched van was later recovered by law enforcement and inside was the body of 34-year-old Roxyann Allee, a mother of two children who was also a Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy. Deputy Allee was shot in the head and her service weapon was never recovered. Her killers were never found and today, almost 25 years later, Deputy Allee’s case remains unsolved.
During my 23 years in Federal law enforcement, and now as a private investigator and security consultant, I look back on my career and vividly recall moments like these that hugely impacted my life then and now. I refer to them as “emotional bookmarks” or critical moments in time that remain in our memory as highly significant, thought-provoking, and highly worthy of attention. From that very disturbing and sad September day in 1991 and following the memorial service for Deputy Allee, I always think twice about parking lots and the vulnerabilities that exist, especially for women who are all too often targeted as easy prey for an attack.
Never Let Your Guard Down
As women, on-the-go, it’s not unusual to see us running in and out of shopping malls, or to and from work while looking at our Smartphones and texting our family, or even making the shopping list required for a quick stop on the way home. Personal security and a general awareness of our surroundings doesn’t really come into mind, but I say it definitely should. We should always be mindful of our obligation to our own personal security.
Effective personal security starts with being aware of our surroundings – in the security business we call it “Situational Awareness”. By viewing your environment through a security paradigm, even at a subconscious level, you will gain early warning to potential threats and vastly improve your ability to avoid serious incidents.
When driving your car, surprise is the criminal’s ally and your greatest enemy. You are most likely to be surprised (or ambushed) when stopped and distracted – situations that occur most frequently when entering or leaving your parked car.
Parking Lot Safety Tips
Following are 15 quick and meaningful tips to increase your safety when arriving or departing by vehicle:
1. When routinely parking at work, vary your arrival and departure time as much as possible. Criminals surveil before they attack. Don’t make it easy for bad guys to establish your daily routine. Mix it up!
2. Always lock your vehicle when unattended and safeguard your keys in a pocket if you have one. Purses are easily snatchable.
3. Time your arrival and departure so others are present in the areaCriminals don’t like to commit their acts when witnesses are present.
4. Park in secured lots when possible and avoid below ground parking. If you feel uneasy, ask a security guard or other employee to walk you to and from your vehicle.
5. Park in well-lighted areas that are not secluded. Criminals like the cover of darkness to avoid detection.
6. Walk to your vehicle with keys in your hand, ready to use.
7. If you see someone unusual around you or your vehicle, hit the panic button on your key fob to sound the alarm to attract the attention of bystanders.
8. Walk with purpose and do not delay. Keep your head up never talk or text on your mobile phone while walking in a secluded parking lot.
9. Carry your mobile phone in your hand and have 911 programmed on speed dial if you feel you could be in danger.
10. Program your mobile phone with apps that allow for GPS tracking, and share that fact with family and friends.
11. If you are forced to walk to or from an unsafe area, again ask for a security escort. If security is unavailable, ask a colleague to watch you walk to and from your vehicle.
12. Never engage in conversation with strangers even when asked for assistance. This can be a trick to lure you close for an attack.
13. Perform a quick check of your vehicle exterior and interior before unlocking.
14. If a van is parked close to your driver door, enter from the passenger side, or simply wait until the van departs. Otherwise, make sure someone else is nearby and watching you enter your vehicle.
15. Once you enter your vehicle, lock your doors and get moving. If a situation feels creepy, it is probably dangerous. Trust your instincts and RETREAT!
Keep these key tips at hand and deprive bad guys of the element of surprise. We hope these tips will elevate your situational awareness to dramatically enhance your personal security. And please feel free to share them with your friends!
This article was written in honor and memory of Deputy Sheriff Roxyann Allee. Thank you for your service and may you rest in peace.
Kathy Leodler is a retired FBI Special Agent and CEO, Rampart Group. She has written numerous articles on personal security and is an occasional guest consultant on KIRO-TV, a local Seattle news channel.
See Kathy’s interview on KIRO-TV Noon News Video: Security Expert says ‘Trust Your Gut’ with Online Dating.
For more information check out our Rampart Group article on personal security.